Posts by Fr. James Kurzynski

An Urgent Plea: Pray for Peru.
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Originally, I had planned this post to be a light-hearted reflection on stargazing in the southern hemisphere. The parish of which I am Pastor, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, took a ten-day mission trip to our Diocesan Orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, in Lurin, Peru. In light of my past mission trips to Casa, I was already mapping out a post for the The Catholic Astronomer before departure. However, events from the trip forced a change of theme. One afternoon, I was offering spiritual direction to a Casa staff volunteer. We were sitting outside underneath the shade of a tree when a low flying helicopter caught our attention. It was so low that it sounded like it was going to land on the orphanage grounds. It was blaring a loud siren while slowly hovering over the city of Lurin. We began to wonder what this warning was about? We had heard earlier of flooding in parts of Peru, but since there was … Continue reading

When Religion and Science Sought To Save The Black Sea: 1997 Waterborne Symposium
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What would it take to “kill off” an entire sea? In the late 1990’s, those who depend on the Black Sea for food and the stability of their economy wondered if this question had become reality. In the 1980’s, the Black Sea was seen by many as a body of water that could feed the world given its abundance of aquatic life. In the late 1990’s, this bountiful sea was being transformed into a kind of “underwater desert.” Fishermen were coming back with empty nets, promising both economic hardship and social difficulties given the region’s dependence upon the Black Sea for food. This shocking turn of events led world leaders to ask a logical question: What happened to this bountiful body of water? A simple summary of a very complex problem was that the amount of pollutants finding their way into the Black Sea was dramatically increasing. As these pollutants were being introduced, the chemistry of the Black Sea was … Continue reading

Turn Right At The Cow: Stargazing In Wisconsin With My Mother.
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(With Ash Wednesday coming up, my time has been consumed with parish work. Therefore, I will be taking a week off from the summaries of the Waterborne Symposia. If you have been following these posts, we will get back into “Christian Ecology” next week.) A little over a week ago, I had a rare opportunity to run back to the family farm for dinner. I had just come off of a long stretch of funerals at the parish and felt the need to get away, even if it just be for a night. As soon as I got home, my father told me how beautiful the night skies had been. It has been an unusually warm February in Wisconsin, providing crystal clear skies and weather warm enough for some stargazing with no winter gear necessary. After nightfall, my parents asked me if I brought my telescope home? Unfortunately, I had not since I was just looking to rest for the … Continue reading

The Book of Revelation and the Environment: 1995 Waterborne Symposium – Aegean Sea
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I had never thought of the Book of Revelation as containing an ecological message until recently. In my childhood, I fell into the trap that most do of seeing the gloom and doom of Revelation in a way that literally scared the “Hell” out of me. In my college years, I revisited the Book of Revelation through the lens of it being a book of hope for the early Christians under the persecution of Nero. In seminary, there was a push to approach Revelation from a liturgical perspective, seeing in its mystic and symbolic language a type of “code” the author used to communicate a mystical experience of celebrating the Eucharist. Recently, I have discovered a new approach to Revelation as being profoundly connected to the environment, arguing that when we are not in right relationship with God the impact is not only personal, but global. This vision of Revelation containing a commentary on our environment was a central theme … Continue reading

Just How “Green” Is Christianity? Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew
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A lesson quickly learned when studying theology is that the terms liberal and conservative are of little to no help. In a culture that demonizes such labels, there can be a deep desire to find a different language that transcends the volatility of these terms. Traditionally, theologians will use the terms Orthodoxy (correct belief) and Orthopraxy (the proper practice and application of our belief). When the terms liberal and conservative are removed in favor of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, one quickly finds that authentic Christian belief is a fascinating weave, providing a beautiful tapestry of the world that fails to fit nicely into a cultural ideology, limited by political designations. One of the clearest examples of this transcendent tapestry is ecology and care for creation. As a priest for the Catholic Church that is pro-life, pro-family, pro-personal responsibility, and pro-subsidiarity, many find it contradictory for Catholics to also be pro-immigration, pro-workers rights, pro-solidarity, pro-preferential option for the poor, and pro-ecology. An example … Continue reading

You Are The Bridge: Exploring “the Gap” Between Faith and Science
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What is the bridge between faith and science? At this year’s Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW2017), a simple, but powerful answer to this question emerged: You are the bridge between faith and science. Since then, I have been wrestling with the question: What does a relational approach to faith and science look like? Too often we fall into the trap of reducing faith and science to a set of intellectual arguments one can find in a book. The reason I find this dangerous is that it removes the human element and turns faith and science into a mere intellectual exercise of thesis, antithesis, and new thesis to borrow a model from the philosopher Hegel. Absent from this approach is the realization that truth is found not only in written arguments, but in the encounter of human hearts. To look at this from a slightly different angle, as a Catholic Priest, I am often pressed by non-Catholics to defend my faith. Over the … Continue reading

Hidden Figures: (Spoiler Alert) Stories That Must Be Told
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In my youth, I hated reading. I would get bored, become tired, and hardly ever finish a book. Some called my behavior lazy, slow, and unengaged. My mother, on the other hand, knew different. She knew I could read and enjoyed reading because every night when the Newspaper came I would, in her words, “absorb” the sports page. In particular, I loved baseball stories and numbers. My first math lessons were understanding batting averages and the hit to at-bat ratios my favorite players needed in order to be among the league leaders in hitting before the end of the season. In high school, I recall a project in which we needed to write a book report on a subject of civil rights. My teacher wisely encouraged me to do a project on Negro League Baseball, ensuring that I would actually read the book given its connection with baseball. At first, I had no idea that the Negro Leagues even existed. I … Continue reading

Alister McGrath: How Beauty, Meaning, and Purpose Brought an Atheist to Christianity.
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How does a staunch, combative atheist become a Christian? In our modern culture, there is a false narrative that the exploration of science leads to atheism. Though many can speak of a scientific awakening that led them to an inner atheism (or from my ministerial experience an agnostic mentality that is often presented as atheism), there are also examples of those who, from an atheist presumption, have come to faith in part because of their scientific pursuits. An example of a scientist who was a hard atheist turned Christian is Alister McGrath. In his youth, McGrath speaks of being the kind of atheist that was combative and confrontational when encountering Christian faith. Interestingly, McGrath speaks of his early atheism as almost a cultural wind of the times that many young British intellectuals got caught up in. In some interviews McGrath has given, he will speak of atheism as a “faith,” equating it to a life of aggressive evangelization one would find … Continue reading

FAW2017 – The Journey Continues
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This week, I will have the privilege of joining scientists from the Vatican Observatory, friends of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, and 24 participants at the third Faith and Astronomy Workshop (FAW). Having greatly enjoyed the previous FAW events, both as a participant and a presenter, I greatly look forward to what this year’s Workshop has in store. Amid the excitement, there is also a sobering reality I take with me. Recently, the The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has published a study, commissioned by St. Mary’s Press, on why young people are leaving the Catholic Church. Though the results showed a complex tapestry of reasons why millennials are leaving in large numbers, one of the central findings was that young people see science and Catholicism as incompatible. (Click Here to read Our Sunday Visitors summary of the study.) I would be quite naive to think that one workshop can change the cultural winds of the relationship between faith and … Continue reading

Worlds Apart: Exploring Our Natural Wiring To Seek Cosmic Connections.
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We live on an amazing planet! It is a planet that is beautiful, fruitful, and delicate. It is a planet that allows us to exist and provides the means for us to live well. Beyond our material needs, our planet also provides a canvas of wonder for the human soul. Whether it is studying the smallest particles under a microscope or the grandeur of distant galaxies through a telescope, our common home allows us to ask the big questions of life. As technology has advanced, so has our understanding of our common home. One hundred years ago, it would have been science fiction to think we would view the Earth from the Moon, Mars or Saturn.  These images of our small home have become iconic, sparking many to appreciate our fragility and protect its delicate equilibrium. A while back, I was in awe looking at satellite images of the Saharan dust storms. It never occurred to me that dust from Africa could find its way to the Americas. … Continue reading

The Ratzinger Foundation and Ecology: Moving Toward a New Ecological Index Based on Laudato Si’.
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Recently, I gave a presentation on Pope Francis’ vision of Integral Ecology. At the end of the presentation, a person asked what new technologies we should be embracing as Catholics to take the first steps toward caring for our common home in light of Laudato Si’? I could tell I shocked the room a little when I simply said, “None of them.” Sensing that many thought this answer contradicted everything I presented on, I explained that a core problem with embracing our call to care for creation is our inability to detach from a consumption mentality and embrace a conservation mentality. When consumption is chosen over conservation, the question about care for creation becomes primarily one of economics: What is the most cost effective way to provide more energy for more people who consume more and more on a yearly basis without doing to much harm to creation? When looking at Laudato Si’, we don’t find a document who’s starting point is developing new eco-friendly … Continue reading

And on the Eighth Day: Creation and Re-Creation.
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Merry Christmas! To some, this greeting may seem out of place. However, today is just as good of a day as Sunday to utter this sentiment of good will. Since Christmas is one of the two principle Feasts of the Church’s year (the other being Easter Sunday), Catholics elongate Christmas for eight days, or what is called an “Octave.” When hearing the word “Octave,” most people will think of music before Christmas. The heart of western music is based on various forms of a seven note scale that concludes with an eighth note that is the same as the first, but at a higher pitch. Therefore, to play a full octave means that you begin and end at the same note, but the note you end with resonates differently than the first note. This simple pattern of eight notes in different keys has blessed our world with musical expressions some have experienced as beyond the ability of human reason alone. In regard … Continue reading